9 dead, 287 still missing after South Korea ferry sinking

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By Madison Park and Holly Yan, CNN

There were 46 lifeboats attached to the South Korean ferry that sank in frigid waters — but only one lifeboat was deployed, CNN affiliate YTN reported Thursday.

southkoreaferryCNN has not been able to independently confirm the report. But if true, it will fuel the anger of families still waiting to hear the fate of 287 passengers still missing at sea.

Video acquired by affiliate JTBC showed at least 12 of the white survival capsules still attached to the ferry, even as it was keeled over in the water. The survival capsules hold the lifeboats.

More than 24 hours have passed since the 6,800-ton ferry sank Wednesday morning.

Nine people are dead. At least 179 have been rescued.

But no one knows whether the missing 287 are alive, perhaps on the ship, or if they succumbed to the water about 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit.)

The captain of the ferry broke down in tears when asked if he had anything to say to the missing passengers’ families.

“I am sorry, I am at a loss for words,” captain Lee Joon Suk said. He sat at a coast guard station with his head and face covered, facing possible charges of negligence and accidental homicide.

How did this happen?

No one knows exactly why the ship sank.

Some analysts said the five-story ferry might have veered off course — speculation that South Korean Oceans and Fisheries Ministry quashed Thursday.

The agency had approved the ferry’s intended route, and “there was no huge difference between their plan and the actual track chart,” spokesman Nam Jae Heon said.

At one point or another, the massive rescue efforts has included 169 boats, 29 planes and 512 divers. Crews were trying to move a crane to stabilize the ship.

But relentless rain, whipping winds and thick fog stymied rescue efforts Thursday. Three of the 22 volunteer divers who joined the search went missing in high tide but were later found, YTN said.

South Korean President Park Guen-hye visited families at the scene and pushed rescue workers to press on.

“Since there is the possibility of survivors, we cannot waste any time,” she said.

Anguish and impatience

At the Peng Mok Harbor in Jindo, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the site of the accident, family members spend the hours staring at the water.

They have camped out here since Wednesday. Mothers and grandmothers huddle together, crying and comforting each other.

Chang Min, whose second-grade son is missing, said he was furious that search officials are using the word “investigation” and not the word “rescue.”

“If the government cares for the people, our family, our children, please rescue our families and our children,” he said.

He, like many others, are angry at the pace of the process.

But at least one parent blamed herself.

Christine Kim’s daughter didn’t want to go on her school’s field trip to the resort island of Jeju. After all, she had just visited the island two months ago.

But Kim urged her to go. “I told her, ‘I think this trip will be (a) very great experience for you,'” the mother said.

Now, she’s wracked with guilt as she waits at the dreary harbor. She’s been sitting in the cold rain for more than a day.

“How can I sleep when my daughter is in the cold ocean?”

Hope for survival

The hope for survivors largely hinges on whether trapped passengers are in isolated pockets of air on the ship.

“From the images that I’ve seen, there’s clearly some areas of the hull that are above the water, that are not flooded,” Mike Dean, the U.S. Navy deputy director for salvage and diving, told “CNN Tonight.”

“So absolutely, there could be areas in there where there is breathable air, but the trouble right now is the temperature and getting people to them.”

Most of the bedrooms of the 353 passengers were on the fourth level of the five-floor boat.

Passengers faced a terrifying choice as the vessel rolled: obey commands barked over loudspeakers to stay in place, or don life vests and jump into the chilly ocean water.

“Don’t move,” a voice warned, according to a recording obtained by CNN affiliate YTN. “If you move, it’s dangerous. Don’t move.”

That announcement, some witnesses worried, may have cost some passengers on the ferry their lives.

“We were told to stay where you are, so we kept staying,” survivor Hyun Hung Chang told YTN. “But later on, the water level came up. So we were beside ourselves. Kids were screaming out of terror, shouting for help.”

“Kids were forced to stay put,” another survivor told YTN. “So only some of those who moved survived.”

‘Please come back

Many of the passengers aboard the ship were students of Ansan Danwon High School on a four-day trip to the island of Jeju.

At the school in the suburb of Seoul, parents sat on mats, clutching their cell phones for calls or texts from their children.

Local media reported on several text messages they said were from passengers. In one, a passenger describes women screaming in the darkness. In another, a father learns his child is trapped. In a third, a son, fearing death, tells his mother he loves her.

CNN could not independently confirm the authenticity of the messages or when they were sent. It’s also unclear what happened to the people who sent them.

The panicked messages were reason enough for some parents to believe more survivors will be found.

On one wall of the school, officials have posted a list of names. Once a confirmation of a rescue came, they circled that name. On Wednesday, soon after the ship sank, several names were circled in rapid succession.

So many, however, remain untouched.

At one point Wednesday, the school announced that all students had been rescued but soon backtracked, to the parents’ wrath.

Even though the school was closed Thursday, students and teachers arrived to seek comfort in numbers.

“Please be alive,” said messages written in classroom chalkboards. “Please come back.”

On Thursday, several parents took a boat to try to go the accident site. The boat turned back after several of them became so distraught that they fainted.

Explanations elusive

The five-story passenger ferry, Sewol, was carrying 475 passengers — most of them students — as it left from the port city of Incheon, just west of Seoul, for a trip to Jeju, the resort island considered the Hawaii of Korea.

Foggy weather had delayed the departure by about two hours.

Just before 9 a.m. Wednesday (8 p.m. Tuesday ET), about 12 miles from the island of Jindo, the ship ran into trouble.

Passenger Kim Sung-Mook told YTN he was eating breakfast in the ship’s main hall when he felt the ferry begin to tilt.

Someone made the announcement telling passengers to stay in place. Then, Kim said, he heard a loud bang.

Student Lim Hyung Min, who was rescued, told YTN he heard the bang before the ship began to list.

“The students were falling over and crashing into things and bleeding,” Lim said.

Ret. Capt. Jim Staples told “AC 360” that the ship’s captain may have increased speed to remain on schedule.

Mary Schiavo, former inspector general for the Department of Transportation, thinks the ship could have hit something.

The ship’s operator, Chonghaejin Marine Corp., had no explanation — only apologies.

“We deeply apologize to the families, and I’m saying once again we’re really sorry,” Chonghaejin executive Kim Young-bung said.

“Our company will promise that we will do our best not to lose any more lives.”

The president of the company tried to venture out to the sunken ferry, but was hospitalized after collapsing from shock on the way to the scene.


CNN’s Madison Park reported from Jindo and Holly Yan wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Pauline Chiou in Jindo; Frances Cha and Euan McKirdy in Hong Kong; and Catherine E. Shoichet and Michael Pearson in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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1 Comment

  • N.b

    This is truly sad. Romans 15:5 speaks of God as being a God of comfort especially when we are going through difficult times.